Rats scurry into subway tunnels, teens discuss real estate with premature machismo, and airconditioners hum and drip irregularly. Sigh; all is as I left it here in New York City. It is now night and some of the edge is off. Earlier today, I sat in the backseat of my parents’ rental and stared out a tinted window at the totally clear pure blue sky and dreamed of my feet over the edge of a pier, dipped in a cool northern lake. But compulsion drew me in, inexorably, out of the infinite green beauties, away from the fields, silos and flowers, into a small tight gray corner-metropolis. As I drove myself (different stage of the journey) down the Thruway, I imagined all the other people, leaving their families and vacations and the purity of the mountains and forests for Reality, Vice, Career and Corruption. It was such a cliche. How many of us there on the road were doing the same thing? Pondering their families while driving 70 miles-an-hour away from them? (Really, officer, I was only doing 65.) I thought of all the strange citythings that could and should never be communicated at the family reunion. They would not only be inappropriate; they would be meaningless there, Sanskrit scribblings. I guess reality can sometimes make these two imaginary worlds intersect, strangely. I thought about how I had to return from one world to the other, I thought of the metaphor behind the miles. Then, restless, trapped in my white rental car, I moved from metaphor to my dream–I could escape, head up to Schroon Lake for one last breather of the summer–but I turned the car south and smiled and gritted my teeth and paid the tolls and here I am.

Let the record state that a) if the Arnold Palmer is Iced Tea and Lemonade, b) the Jeremy Denk is Cranberry Juice Cocktail and Ginger Ale.

Let me address a totally different question: how does a touring musician while away down times? I sat In my Rhinebeck hotel room, surfing channels and always seeming to stop at the WB or F/X before accusing myself of vulgarity, etcetera: an endless cycle of TV self-recrimination. I am an artist; how can I watch this drivel? My reading material had run out, and off the shelf came an extraordinary thick volume: Danielle Steel’s The House. Ah, yes, something even more empty than television … Ever in search of exotic experiences, I began to read, with an odd compulsion, and then I sincerely could not stop, though I skimmed madly, in search of understanding, through its 533 large-print pages; I told myself I was a cynical visitor in quest of the key to its badness, but also I was just a plain old sentimental sop wanting to know how she would bring this train-wreck of a plot to an end. I have a little file on my computer called “first lines” where I put all the cool first lines of novels I will (probably) never write; I spend endless hours dreaming of interesting hooks to bring the reader into the worlds of these hypothetical narratives. But Danielle is not hung up on beginnings; boldly, even impudently, she dreams up the most boring imaginable first sentence, and lets it fly:

Sarah Anderson left her office at nine-thirty on a Tuesday morning in June for her ten o-clock appointment with Stanley Perlman.

I LOVE it. There’s so much uninteresting detail, and so little grace. I have wracked my brain, but don’t think the Tuesday has any metaphorical significance, and Danielle really wants us to know, though there is no future plot juncture depending on it, that it takes a half-hour to get from her office to Stanley’s place. I suppose the sentence does convey a sense of specificity and punctuality, a kind of no-nonsense, life-is-not-about-wiffly-waffly-images kind of thing. Curious, for a romance. A pragmatic romance? Along those lines, I love her choices of names: nothing quirky, nothing off-type. The men mostly have nice masculine one-syllable names (Jeff, Phil, Dave, George) except for the French professional bachelor, Pierre. The women are a more gentle two-syllable crowd (Sarah, Audrey, Mimi) except for the uptight French wife, Marie-Louise, who needs a lot more space to be haughty. Interestingly, the money-hoarding genius at investing is named Stanley Perlman. Surely, there’s no stereotype there.

Now, let us be the first to admit!: we are no strangers here at Think Denk to clumsy metaphors. But, one has to bow in reverent admiration at Miss Steel. Generally she avoids prose that is too far from naked fact, or generic account, preferring for instance:

Sarah came back to the apartment to put her dry cleaning away, and after that she went to the photography exhibit at the museum, and found it beautiful and interesting. She would have liked to share it with Phil, but she knew he wasn’t crazy about museums. She went for a walk on the Marina Green after that, to get some exercise and air, and she was back at her apartment as six o’clock, after stopping at Safeway to buy some groceries.

Proust, eat your heart out. A passage like this makes me want to bring back Susan Sontag for a diatribe. But here Miss Steel goes trying out a little metaphor:

The day without him, his spending it with his friend without calling her, the way he talked about Dave’s ex-wife and his girlfriend, and the exceptionally good sex she and Phil had had. All put together, it made for a puzzle where none of the pieces fit smoothly.

Aha! One tremendously awkward (“his spending it,” “had had”), ungrammatical sentence, followed by an explanatory metaphor. Probably, I would suggest, “All put together, THEY made for a puzzle where none of the pieces fit smoothly.” Anybody else agree on this? I’m not a stickler; plurals can become singulars and vice versa; to my mind, it’s no biggie. But I sense Danielle felt she had gone too far out on a linguistic limb, that the meaning was not clear, and so she elucidates:

She felt as though she were trying to fit pieces together that showed trees, sky, half a cat, and part of a barn door.

And yet further, in case you missed the point:

All together they didn’t make a picture. She knew what the images were, but none of them was complete, and she didn’t feel whole, either.

Kerpow! Thud! Idea pounded into my head, for good, so hard that in fact my head hurts. Now some of you don’t like it when I get too mean-spirited and snobby and stuff here on Think Denk and so you probably won’t enjoy this little Danielle Steel moment. Can you forgive me? It’s true, I can be a jerk. I’m just trying to show you that sometimes you can get so bored in your hotel room that in fact you will do ANYTHING, including read romance novels, and sometimes these unexpected, desperate diversions can be very diverting. I skimmed all the way to the end of The House and seriously had to know how it ended. In fact, once the heroine buys real estate, everything seems to fall into place. Her architect becomes her boyfriend, both her mother and grandmother find new husbands, the old boyfriend is revealed as a cad–

He could have been plunging into the spectacular blonde when she walked in, instead of whatever they were doing under the covers. Fortunately, it had been a cold night, and his apartment was always freezing, so they had stayed under the duvet.

–I admire the attention to climatic, and not just climactic, detail. Really a whole lifetime of growth and happiness seems to be compressed into one heavy mortgage, and I wondered if Danielle was in cahoots with the broker lobby. All my criticism is beyond useless, however; this authoress is laughing, has laughed, will continue to laugh, all the way to the bank, and if I got some laughter out of it too, and you readers do also, then who’s really suffering? No one. I apologize to all Think Denk readers, in advance, who are Steel fans, and I hope Sarah and Jeff live happily ever after and I’m sure Phil will continue to be a selfish self-absorbed jerk and where’s the remote?

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  1. Lane Savant
    Posted August 22, 2006 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Negative space, Mr. Denk. Negative space.
    Without a contrasting background, the image is invisible.
    We read trash on order to understand the worthwhile.
    We listen to Manilow to appreciate Sinatra and Sinatra to appreciate Pavoratti.
    Notice how reading Steel (or whatever it is she calls herself) brings Sontag to mind.
    I must admit that, bored as I have been, I’ve never been bored enough to read D.S.
    I am bored enough, however to be reading my way through the “A” shelf
    in the mystery section of my local library. God, what crimes the English language can be forced to commit. A permit should be required.
    As it so happens, I am interspersing the trash with a re reading of Sontag’s work. Coincidence?
    It’s all research, yeah, That’s it, research. If I can learn what ART “is” I will be able to turn my ridiculous music into sublime music.
    I should probably shut up now.
    You rescue me from boredom, and I thank you for that.

  2. pamela
    Posted August 22, 2006 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    thank you for your sonata in b minor on saturday. it was gorgeous and touching and i’m still thinking about it.

  3. musicmad
    Posted August 22, 2006 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Too bad you wasted your time on Steely drivel and didn’t use the time to start your own novel on the trials and tribulations of a peripatetic pianist for which you have been collecting opening sentences. There is a good auto-bio of another p.p., Seymour Bernstein’s “Monsters and Angels” (or vice-versa; I don’t have it with me now). And if you long for a lake in which to wet your feet, you should have returned to Seattle; we have lots of them here, plus the Dick’s burgers you say you like.

  4. Language Lover
    Posted August 22, 2006 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    HAHAHA! Danielle Steel is the only author I’ve read whose work I completely despise—and I’ve gone through far more than my fair share of trashy romances. But you, Jeremy, artist that you are, manage to take her words, add a healthy dose of delightfully acerbic commentary, and create a true work of art. I bow to your genius.

  5. Allison
    Posted August 23, 2006 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Too funny… Enjoyed it, JD.

  6. hari
    Posted August 23, 2006 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    the good thing about boredom is that it allows you to do things you ordinarily wouldn’t; like reading trashy novels, watching soaps, gorging on junk food, etc. it kind of broadens your horizons. when i’m bored i read fashion magazines and clean my closets, but i’ve got to listen to my favorite hot, trashy music when i do it.

  7. Mwanji Ezana
    Posted August 23, 2006 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I don’t get the last quote:

    “He could have been plunging into the spectacular blonde when she walked in, instead of whatever they were doing under the covers”

    What could he have been doing under the covers, apart from plunging into the spectacular blonde?

  8. Flaxen
    Posted August 25, 2006 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Speaking as a blonde, which really doesn’t really matter, perhaps they were reading a Steel novel under the duvet by flashlight because it was too cold to read it in the great “outdoors” of the bedroom? I personally prefer to blast the A/C in the summer – then it’s too cold – so I turn on (minds out of the Steel gutter please!) my heated matress duvet, and the heated blanket on top. If I fall asleep before turning them off, I end up waking up in the night feeling like a grilled chees sandwich – and THAT is a metaphor you won’t find in one of her novels!
    Why dream about a lake when you are surrounded by ocean and beaches? (the loud obnoxious people go home around 5 or 6 pm on their charter busses back to the city, so it’s possible to walk on the boardwalk, or read, or just sit and watch the ocean. (the north shore – not the Hamptons – is probably much quieter than Jones Beach etc.) I was just thinking the opposite, of escaping L.I. for the noise of NYC for a day!
    p.s. hire a housekeeper maybe twice a month – if you’re not on tour – who also does laundry. I can’t practice my bass unless the house is passably tidy.At least where I am….

  9. Carol
    Posted August 25, 2006 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    oops – wrong name – that’s for another web page, and I can’t figure out how to change it -CRISIS-WHATEVER SHALL I DO? Well the las6t post is under Carol – if anyone cares – not Flaxen.

  10. Carol
    Posted August 25, 2006 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Jeremy: Never overlook the lakes in Northern Ontario. Look up Interprovincial Music Camp (imcon theweb.org). A lot of the faculty are from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (I’m originally from Toronto), it’s on a beautiful lake 21/2 hrs N of Toronto, and the rest of the faculty have great credentials as well. I went, as well as my brother and sister – so I thought my daughter might enjoy it. Now I’ve created a logistical monster from NY – however she and her friends from Toronto have gone back for 5 yrs now. The staff bring their families, there are water sports, basketball, activities at night – like the dreaded dance to be avoided at all costs etc. There are 2 bands, and three orchestras, and they all have to be in the choir (at 8:15am they love that!). Sarah has had a violinist from the TSO for 5 Yrs now who Joshua will be playing with 3 weeks later at the gala opening night of the TSO – which my Mom is trying to get a ticket for. The camp has faculty concerts every night by the lake,bonfires,and also has a theatre production. I don’t think there are any piano lessons though – which would be nice. So you’d have to just sit around and relax by the lake (and read a Steel novel?!). They put on a concert after nine days for the parents, and it is just amazing. Sarah’s conductor is with the Toronto Youth Symphony Orchestra.The most disturbing thing is that the owner attended the camp when I did ( a really long time ago – I don’t remember her) she is referred to by the campers as Mom – which is the opposite way of the life spectrum I’m trying to go. Oh well, I CANNOT COMPLAIN – I’ve had experiences that people without kids never have. I digress. So if anyone is looking for a less expensive, but still high quality, fun music camp (Canadian $!) – they also have a jazz camp just prior to this week. So Jeremy – find a cottage to rent on a lake, go to a camp on a lake, or go sit by the ocean – if all else fails there’s a few fountains in NYC!

  11. Anonymous
    Posted August 27, 2006 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Just a comment in my opinion if you ever want to listen to Beethoven… Martha Argerich does it well…so does Radulupu…

  12. Anonymous
    Posted September 5, 2006 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    a gorgeous reading of ms. steel’s – um – reverse brilliance? thanks.

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